The Grammys are the music industry’s biggest night, with just over 26-million viewers tuning into this year’s edition. It’s incredible that an event of this scale honours the best music each year has to offer, or at least it would be if organizers and voters actually followed through on the award show’s mission statement.
As it is clearly stated on the Grammy’s website, recipients receive these prestigious awards for “artistic or technical achievement, not sales or chart positions” but by looking at album sales and album of the year lists, this statement appears to be entirely false.
According to Nielsen Music, a data tracking company, it reported the ten albums of 2015 and 2016 that moved the most units (which are listed below), a method that takes into account “traditional album sales, track equivalent albums (TEA) and streaming equivalent albums (SEA). The multi-metric formula is also used to compile the weekly Billboard 200 albums chart.”
What’s interesting to note from both of these lists is that every album was nominated for one Grammy Award at the very least, while albums such as Adele’s “25” took home multiple awards. Although the Grammy Awards stated that album sales or chart positions are not a factor, it appears that they still look very closely at these charts.
While it may not come as a surprise to Grammy viewers that chart-topping artists are frequently nominated, it is interesting to look at the lists that these best-selling albums do not make.
Much like the Grammy Awards intend to highlight musical achievements, various publications around the world produce their own album of the year lists.
While Adele’s album “25” moved the most units in 2015 and second most in 2016, in turn winning Album of the Year Award at the 2017 Grammys, she failed to receive critical acclaim for this recent effort.
Out of the ten publications from the U.S. and the U.K., which included the likes of Rolling Stone, SPIN, NME and BBC, the album only made two of the lists, while failing to be named album of the year on either. It is important to note that Adele’s album did not make any of the four U.K. publications’ lists.
That being said, Adele’s album had record-breaking sales in the U.K., as NME reported “’25’ has sold more than the rest of the next 86 albums in the chart combined and more than the last 19 Number One albums in the UK combined too.”
Much like in the U.S., where Adele’s album was not critically acclaimed but awarded best album, in the U.K. Adele received Album of the Year at the BBC Music Awards, a publication that did not place “25” on their albums of the year list.
Ultimately, something is fundamentally wrong with Grammy Awards, as they continue to go against their mission statement. With millions of viewers tuning in every year to watch, the Grammys have the platform and the viewership to give out awards to deserving bands and artists that do not receive the album sales, radio airplay or promotion that artists such as Adele receive.
This brings forward the question “What can the Grammy’s do to fix this?,” and the answer just might be in the form of Canada’s Polaris Music Prize.
According to its website the Polaris Music Prize is “a juried award determined by journalists, broadcasters, bloggers and programmers from across Canada. Jury members are selected annually by the Polaris Board of Directors [and] … consists of 196 members.”
Unlike the Grammys, the voters’ identity and profession are made known to public, creating a level of transparency not seen with the Grammy Awards.
In terms of its voting format for the Polaris Music Prize, “all jury members submit a ballot indicating their Top 5 albums of the year; the results form the Polaris Prize Long List and, after a second round of voting, the Polaris Prize Short List. An 11-member Grand Jury is selected each year to convene at the Polaris Awards gala, where they determine the Polaris Prize Winner.”
This too could help to greatly improve the Grammy Awards, as the jury’s “thought process” would be available to the public as they move from a long list to a short list, and with a millions of viewers tuning into the live broadcast of the Grammy Awards these lists could help provide exposure to numerous bands and artists, no matter if they reach the final ballot or not.
While this approach is on a much smaller scale than the Grammys, it could help to streamline the voting process, and ensure that its 12,000 voting members are knowledgeable in the category (or categories) they’re voting in.
This problem was highlighted by voting member Rob Kenner, writing an article of his experiences for Complex magazine, stating, ”famous people tend to get more votes from clueless Academy members, regardless of the quality of their work. This is especially true in specialized categories like reggae and, to a lesser extent, hip-hop, where many voting members of the Recording Academy (who tend to skew older than the demographic for rap music) may not be well acquainted with the best releases in any given year.”
The Grammy Awards are currently in a financial position where these changes could be viewed as completely unnecessary to them. Ultimately the Grammys are a business, with declining viewership or advertising being far more threatening to its organizers than the threat of the Grammys becoming entirely irrelevant in the public eye.
Having an award show that showcases artists that top the charts, alongside artists that receive less attention but more critical acclaim could potentially reach out to a wider audience, and bring back viewers who may have stopped watching years before. So if the Grammys ever want to truly follow through with their mission statement, it’s not too late to find a balance.